Heyl Royster

 

Practices

PRODUCT LIABILITY

The successful defense of product liability cases requires a clear understanding of engineering and scientific issues and a close working relationship with the defendant and various experts. It requires the ability to present sophisticated scientific concepts in terms that will be understood by the jury. Attorneys within our product liability practice group work closely with the client to develop successful defense and litigation strategies. 

Product liability cases often involve serious or catastrophic injuries. Defending them presents unique challenges. We have represented many leading corporations, both foreign and American, in a wide range of cases. Consequently, our product liability lawyers have extensive experience in cases involving a variety of products. Some of the categories include:

  • Agricultural equipment
  • Consumer products
  • Toxic torts
  • Automotive
  • Industrial machinery
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Elevators/Escalators
  • Aircraft
  • Recreational vehicles and equipment
  • Athletic equipment
  • Firearms
  • Building/Construction Products

Our product liability lawyers are recognized by having members elected to the American College of Trial Lawyers, and selected as Super Lawyers in Illinois and Leading Lawyers in Illinois. They deal regularly with critical issues and challenges facing the product liability defendant and have been leaders in organizations concerning matters of great importance to our clients. They have served as President of the International Association of Defense Counsel, Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel, Lawyers for Civil Justice and the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel. In these leadership roles, they have advanced an agenda to level the playing field in areas involving expert witnesses, preemption, punitive damages, e-discovery and similar matters.

Significant Cases

  • Thornton v. Mono Mfg. Co. 99 Ill. App. 3d 722 (2d Dist. 1981) First Illinois case to interpret and apply newly enacted statute of repose for products liability cases.
  • Galindo v. Riddell, Inc. and Bailey & Himes Successfully defended (dismissed with prejudice without payment after three weeks of jury trial) products liability case brought by quadriplegic against manufacturer and distributor of football helmet.  
  • Main v. Ballymore Obtained not guilty verdict for manufacturer of rollable ladder in strict liability claim.
  • Pennington v. R.D. Werner Obtained not guilty verdict in strict liability claim for manufacturer of aluma-plank scaffold after worker fell.
  • Dukes v. J.I. Case Established the right of a product manufacturer to bring a contribution action against the employer for that employer's negligence in connection with an injury to an employee.
  • Coleman v. Caterpillar Tractor Company Successfully defended Caterpillar in products liability action alleging defective equipment which cost the plaintiff the sight of one eye.
  • Biggers v. Hollymatic Defended product manufacturer in action by an employee of Wendy's for injuries which consisted of partial amputation of two fingers. Obtained 75% assumption of risk by plaintiff, and received contribution for 99.7625% of the remainder against the plaintiff's employer.
  • Rogers v. Gould, Inc., et al. Obtained favorable settlement (low seven figures) in product liability case brought against battery manufacturer after battery explosion resulted in blindness, disfigurement and brain damage. 
  • National Bank of Bloomington v. Westinghouse 235 Ill. App. 3d 697 (4th Dist. 1992) Manufacturer does not have duty to warn of obvious defect.
  • Barron v. Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. 965 F.2d 195 (7th Cir. 1992) Under Florida conflict of laws principles, North Carolina Law, rather than Illinois law, applied to tort action arising from automobile accident occurring in North Carolina, although plaintiff was citizen of Illinois who was visiting her sister in North Carolina when accident occurred and was living in Illinois when action was brought, and defendant automobile manufacturer was not citizen of North Carolina. North Carolina's common-law rule making evidence of seat belt use inadmissible in civil actions was a substantive rule that could be applied to federal diversity action; North Carolina's rule making evidence of seat belt use inadmissible did not apply to manufacturer's evidence that automobile was equipped with seat belts, offered to show that manufacturer had been reasonable in deciding to not make sunroof out of laminated glass.
  • Barron v. Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. 716 F. Supp. 377 (C.D. Ill. 1989) Plaintiff's count in strict liability alleged that defendants' use of a tempered glass sunroof created an ultra-hazardous condition when the vehicle left the manufacturer's control, and that the sunroof shattered when the vehicle rolled over causing the Plaintiff to be seriously injured when she was ejected from the vehicle. Even though North Carolina did not recognize doctrine of strict tort liability plaintiff's claim was not foreclosed under negligence or breach of implied warranty theories based on allegations that automobile was not crashworthy or that its condition enhanced accident victim's injuries.
  • Barron v. Ford Motor Co. Jury Trial, U.S.D.C. - Central District of Illinois. We served as co-counsel with Baker & McKenzie on a product liability action in which the plaintiff was a passenger in a Ford Escort which was being driven by her sister. Plaintiff, a 27-year-old who has paraplegia from the waist down, was ejected from the vehicle during a rollover accident. She claimed the sunroof and the vehicle's retention system were defectively designed, that Ford breached its implied warranty of merchantability and the vehicle was not crashworthy. Plaintiff asked the jury for between $6 and $7 million. Result: Not guilty.
  • Cross v. Ainsworth Seed Co. Dismissal with prejudice obtained and sustained on appeal of unique issue of first impression: Statute of repose barring products liability actions against defendants who, for more than ten years, had had nothing to do with design, planning, supervision, or management of construction or improvement to real property was not unconstitutional special legislation and did not violate due process and equal protection clauses of Federal Constitution. Statute of repose in products liability actions was reenacted without savings clause, and, thus, would be given retroactive effect and would act as bar to actions premised on defects in design in construction before 1979 as well as after.
  • Baldwin v. R.D. Werner Obtained not guilty verdict for aluminum ladder manufacturer when plaintiff fell sustaining a triple leg fracture and shoulder dislocation.
  • In re Guardianship of Babb Successfully overturned established Illinois law, resulting in a ban of the use of loan receipts to avoid contribution under the Illinois Contribution Act.
  • Oak State Products, Inc. v. Ecolab, Inc. Key appellate decision on application of Moorman Doctrine that it does not preclude all actions relative to contracts for professional services.  In addition, Uniform Commercial Code does not preempt all express warranties in service contracts.  Express warranties can exist in service contracts and there is a cause of action under Illinois law for breach of express warranty in a service contract.
  • Anderson v. GROWMARK, Inc., et al. Successfully defended ($67K verdict) large agribusiness cooperative in six-week product liability trial involving death of race horses from contaminated feed in which plaintiffs claimed property damage of $1.8M and past and future lost profits of $27-55M.  
  • Anderson v. Spoon River F.S., Inc. 323 Ill. App. 3d 1162 (3d Dist. 2001) Denied plaintiffs' attempt to vacate jury verdict in products liability action.
  • Veltman v. Employers Mutual Casualty (Jury trial, Will County, 1996) In what is believed to be the first spoliation case tried after the Illinois Supreme Court's opinion of Boyd v. Travelers Insurance, a directed verdict was obtained for Employer's Mutual Casualty in connection with the loss of the quick coupler valve which was allegedly defective, causing an 18 years old employee to be blinded after exposure to anhydrous ammonia. The case was tried in two phases. The first phase focused on the product liability allegations against the maker of the quick coupler valve while the second phase revolved around the loss of the evidence and whether that loss impaired the ability of the parties to adequately present their cases.
  • Hilst v. General Motors Corp. 305 Ill. App. 3d 792 (3d Dist. 1999) Affirmed use of jury instruction on alternative design in products liability action.
  • Decesari v. Tilley Ladders Co. Successfully defended (no-liability verdict) ladder manufacturer in products liability one-week jury trial case in which ladder collapsed resulting in permanent disability of the plaintiff. 
  • Long v. Cottrell, Inc. 982-10046, U.S.D.C., E.D. Mo Plaintiff was an auto hauler who allegedly sustained a back injury while untying a truck on a car carrier made by Cottrell.  Defense verdict.
  • Doman v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. 355 Ill. App. 3d 1198 (3d Dist. 2005) Affirmed dismissal of punitive damages claims in product liability case.
  • Probasco v. Ford Motor Co. 182 F. Supp. 2d 701 (C.D. Ill. 2002) Application of federal rule to issue relating to punitive damages, rather than Illinois procedural rule that governed punitive damages, was warranted, in motorist's lawsuit against automobile manufacturer that alleged various causes of action; although manufacturer asserted that disregarding state rule would result in forum shopping, application of state rule was not necessary to prevent forum shopping and federal rule promoted same policies of state rule.
  • Cornett v. Gromenn Service Company v. Caterpillar Inc 227 Ill. App. 3d 148 (3d Dist. 1992) Third Party Complaint for Contribution against Caterpillar was dismissed as time-barred under the product liability statute of repose. 
  • Longstreet v. Cottrell 374 Ill. App. 3d 549 (5th Dist. 2007) The estate of a deceased party cannot introduce the discovery deposition of the deceased party at trial as an exception to the hearsay rule.
  • Mason v. Smithkline Beecham Corp. 546 F. Supp. 2d 618 (C.D. Ill. 2008) Summary judgment entered in pharmaceutical product liability case.
  • Bowling & Amesquita v. Flavors of North America v. Frutarom USA Mediation, 2nd Chair, regarding products liability in popcorn lung case.
  • Cunningham v. Yazoo Manufacturing Co. Successfully defended (no-liability verdict) manufacturer of riding mower which overturned resulting in amputation in one-week jury trial.
  • Opstein v. Dr. Richard Calhoun Successfully defended (no-liability verdict) veterinarian in one-week jury trial alleging malpractice in destroying valuable race horse without obtaining permission of owner.  
  • Mwesigwa v. DAP, Inc. (2011), United States District Court Eighth Circuit, summary judgment affirmed in a wrongful death case. The court held that the Federal Hazardous Substances Act preempts any state law cause of action based upon a theory that a product's label should have included warnings not required by the FHSA.
  • Rogers v. Gould Defense of products liability claim for claimed explosion causing blindness.
  • O'Rourke v. Samsung (2001), United States District Court, Central District, Rock Island Division, obtained summary judgment for our client, the seller of television satellite dishes, set-top boxes and software developers, in the defense of a complex commercial claim involving alleged faulty software code and warranty claims. Court found that the governing state law precluded recovery under the Uniform Commercial Code for incidental and consequential damages, and the contractual limitation was enforceable.

Publications

  • "Life After Daubert and Kumho Tire: An Update on the Admissibility of Expert Testimony," Illinois Bar Journal (2000)
  • "Spoliation of Evidence in Illinois: The Duty to Preserve Evidence and the Impact of Martin v. Keeley & Sons, Inc.," International Association of Defense Counsel Product Liability Committee Newsletter (2013)
  • "Defenses to Products Liability," chapter in Illinois Product Liability Practice, Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (2014) - Download Article
  • "Defenses to Product Liability," chapter in Product Liability Practice, Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (2009, 2012) - Download Article
  • "Defenses to Product Liability" chapter in Illinois Product Liability Practice, Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education in each handbook since 1980 (2009) - Download Article
  • "Federal Preemption Defenses in Product Liability Cases," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly Monograph (1996) - Download Article
  • "Defending the Sick Building Case," Illinois Defense Counsel Quarterly (1995) - Download Article
  • "Update on Duty to Warn"